As five Edison High School students sharing a classroom workstation peered into microscopes last week, biology teacher Danilo Sánchez stopped by to provide words of encouragement and advice.
"Are we OK, guys?" Sánchez asked. "Start with the lower power. Then go to the higher power."
Within a few seconds, the students began to recognize the tiny lowercase e's for which they were searching. Next, using pencils, they had to replicate the magnified images on pieces of paper.
"I don't know how to draw an upside-down 'e,' " senior Dehicy Munguía said, laughing.
On the surface, it was not a noteworthy moment. Though, the biology class is part of a significant milestone for Stockton Unified School District. Sánchez, the teacher, was visiting from San Joaquín Delta College, where he has been a biology instructor for five years. His new biology class is one of three Delta classes that began this month at Edison High.
The Edison classes, as well as three Delta courses at Chávez High, mark the first step by Stockton Unified toward bringing a menu of college-level programs to the district's four comprehensive high schools.
The connection between Stockton Unified and Delta College is hardly new. The 300-plus student Stockton Early College Academy, in its fourth year, was founded with the intention of enabling its graduates to finish high school not only with a diploma but also with up to two years of college credits from Delta.
Now, though, the relationship between Stockton Unified and Delta is spreading to the large high schools. The principals at Edison and Chávez say the new Delta classes are only the beginning as Stockton Unified works to expand its offerings to its students.
Chávez is offering two English classes and a psychology class taught by Delta instructors. Edison Principal Brian Biedermann said his school's Delta classes -- biology, English and pre-calculus -- will be part of providing a stepping stone to college for Stockton Unified's largely low-income population.
"We're paying for the tuition, we're paying for the books, and we're bringing the Delta professors to us because our kids don't travel too well," Biedermann said.
A 2012 study by the New York-based Community College Resource Center suggested programs in which high schools offer college-credit courses could be a step toward equity for students from low-income and minority backgrounds. Studying California students in particular, researchers reported that those taking the college-credit courses are more likely to graduate high school, enroll in four-year colleges and be successful once they get there.
Students in Sánchez's biology class at Edison said they recognize the opportunity that has been provided to them.
"I just feel it really helps you if you're trying to get into a university," said senior Melissa Hernández, who has been accepted at California State University, Chico, and is waiting to hear back from a few University of California schools.